Things as They 'Should' Be (John 7:1-24)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: John 7:1–7:24
I. Stop Judging
If Jesus were to appear to you, look you right in the eye, and utter these words, what would you do: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Would that make sense to you? Would you know how to obey his command? That instruction is biblical. It's found in John 7:24. Listen to a few other translations of the same verse:
“Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (NIV)
“Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” (NLT)
“Do not judge according to external appearance, but judge with proper judgment." (NET)
If you're interested following Jesus in every way, then let's think more carefully about this command by turning together to John chapter 7.
II. The Passage: “Judge with Right Judgment” (7:1-24)
As we consider our passage for this morning, you'll notice that the time indicator here in verse 2 tells us that the Jewish “Feast of Booths” or “Feast of Tabernacles” was about to begin. This holy day, also know as Sukkot, takes place in late September. So because chapter 6 mentioned that it was almost Passover, we know chapter 7 takes place almost six months later. So let's take a look at verses 1-24, but in two parts. First, let's look at verses 1-13, a section that focuses on going to the feast, and then 14-24, verses that focus on conflict at the feast.
1. Going to the Feast (vs. 1-13)
This is what John tells us, beginning in verse 1...
After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.  Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand.  So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing.  For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”  For not even his brothers believed in him.  Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.  The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.  You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.”  After saying this, he remained in Galilee.  But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.  The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?”  And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.”  Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.
Verse 5 confirms that even the half-brothers of Jesus did not believe he was the Messiah, the Son of God. They did recognize that he had some kind of messianic agenda, but it's obvious he and they had very different ideas about the right way to move that agenda forward. Their popular ideas about the Messiah led to advice like we find vs. 3-4: “This feast is the time, Jesus! Jerusalem is the place! If you want to be a public persona, you've got to show yourself publicly.”
But even though Jesus tell his brothers that he is (v. 8), “not going up to this feast”, verse 10 helps us understand that what Jesus meant was, 'I am not going up to this feast publicly'. Why not? Because (v. 2) “the Jews [i.e., many of the Jewish leaders] were seeking to kill him.” And indeed, v. 11... the “Jews were looking for him”. Jesus knew he had a time to die, but it hadn't yet come. Was this tension ultimately about the Jewish leaders? No. Verse 7: “the world... hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil”. So Jesus was not going to join the pilgrim crowds and publicly participate in the formal elements of the feast. Instead, he goes privately.
2. Conflict at the Feast (vs. 14-24)
So was Jesus on some kind of 'stealth mission'? Not at all. Notice what we read in v. 14...
About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching.  The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?”  So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.  If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.  The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.  Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?”  The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?”  Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it.  Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath.  If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?  Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
So right away there is renewed tension with the Jewish leaders. They continue to focus on his credentials, while he continues to focus on their hearts. His response in verses 16-19 has some similarities to what he explained in 5:30... “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just (same word translated right in 7:24), because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Jesus was focused on the Father's message, the Father's will, and the Father's glory, not his own. And yet, these leaders were still scoffing and plotting.
Why did these men want to kill Jesus? Was it because they were upholding or protecting the law? No. Look at Jesus' indictment in v. 19... “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” The crowd of course has no idea what's happening. They think Jesus is being paranoid, and even worse, is demon-possessed. But Jesus seems uninterested in the crowd's response and continues addressing the Jewish leaders. It's in these final verses (vs. 21-24) that we discover our verse about judging.
Now, to rightly understand the exhortation of Jesus in verse 24, we need to figure out what Jesus means by the word “appearances”. “Do not judge by appearances...”. Is He simply saying, “I may look like a troublemaker or a false teacher, but I'm really not”? No.
I don't believe that's what He's getting at. Even though we think about the word “appearance” that way, I don't see any evidence that the actual appearance of Jesus was the issue here. So what does He mean? And how can the context help us answer this question?
When we consider this entire passage, starting with verse 1, I think the tension Jesus is touching on here has to do with things as they 'should' be (according to human estimations) and things as they truly are (according to God himself). For example, when we talk about someone 'keeping up appearances', we're talking about someone who wants to avoid judgment or scrutiny, and does this by projecting that things are as they should be, even when they are not.
Notice the examples in this passage of things as they (quote-un-quote) 'should' be...
The brothers of Jesus urge Jesus to go up to the feast because they are judging him and the situation based on things as they 'should' be. “If you are someone important, if you are the Messiah,” they're telling him, “Jerusalem is the place to be. And now is the time! Just think of the crowds, Jesus.” Another example...
These Jewish leaders are skeptical of Jesus when they hear him teaching because they are judging him based on things as they 'should' be. They seem to be saying, “He hasn't been trained properly. He hasn't followed our rabbinic path. He sounds knowledgeable, but something has to be wrong.”
These Jewish leaders are also (as verse 1 reveals) trying to kill Jesus. Why? Because when it comes to the Sabbath, they are judging him based on things as they 'should' be. “God commands us to rest on the Sabbath. You are working and causing others to work.”
So what Jesus is saying in verse 24 is, “Stop judging based on your idea of 'things as they should be', and start judging rightly, in light of things as they truly are.” How can we see, how can we know, things as they truly are? Look again at verse 17: “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching [i.e., his teaching] is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” Now that sounds a little mystical, as if the final determination of Jesus' truthfulness is some inward impression. But I don't think that's exactly what Jesus is saying.
Notice how he uses... Scripture to expose their unscriptural thinking concerning his so-called Sabbath violation of healing the paralyzed man described in the opening verses of chapter 5. Did Jesus really violate the Sabbath? Well, in Leviticus 12, God (through Moses) commanded the Israelites to circumcise their male children eight days after being born. Since a baby could be born on any day of the week, sometimes that eighth day would fall on a Saturday, that is, on the Sabbath. But the Jews didn't see circumcision as a violation of the Sabbath. So if circumcision is a ritual blessing on one part of the body, why would these leaders be so opposed to Jesus' miraculous blessing on a man's entire body?
You see, someone genuinely seeking to do God's will in light of the Hebrew Bible would have, in humility, understood God's heart for the Sabbath and the priority of mercy, especially for those in need. Such people would see in Jesus' ministry and hear in Jesus' teaching that very same heart. This is what so many of the Jewish leaders were lacking; why he told them, “none of you keeps the law”. Now, is there something mystical about all this? Well, when sinners like us desire to do God's will above our own, the Bible tells us that's definitely a work of the Holy Spirit. So I think we can say that the 'right judgment' to which Jesus calls his listeners is informed by the Scriptures and empowered by the Spirit. But what might that look like in our own lives?
III. What are Your 'Should Be's'?
If we honestly desire to live by Jesus' instruction here, we need to be honest about all the ways we're like these Jewish leaders. Listen to the correction of Christ: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” What did we say that meant? “Stop judging based on your idea of 'things as they should be', and start judging rightly, in light of things as they truly are.” Take a moment and think about how you stumble in this area. How does your view of things as they 'should' be clash with God's revelation of things as they really are? Think about some of these areas...
Things as they 'should' be in regard to your feelings.
Things as they 'should' be in regard to your finances.
Things as they 'should' be in regard to your marriage.
Things as they 'should' be in regard to your workplace or career goals.
Things as they 'should' be in regard to hard times.
Things as they 'should' be in regard to respect or recognition.
Things as they 'should' be in regard to your health.
Things as they 'should' be in regard to your children.
Things as they 'should' be in regard to your spiritual growth.
Things as they 'should' be in regard to healing or hope.
Things as they 'should' be in regard to change... in your life or in those around you.
Do you see how me-centered or worldly ideas in such areas can bring us into tension with Jesus, just like we read here regarding the Jewish leaders? You see, Jesus may call us to surrender, but instead, we tighten our grip. Jesus may call us to wait, but we rush in. Jesus may call us to pray, but we plan instead. Jesus may call us to lose, but we're determined to win. Jesus may call us to new priorities, but we cling to the old. Jesus may call us to love, but we sink deeper into indifference. Your 'should be', my 'should be' are shaped by all the voices around us, as well as the voices within us.
But listen again to these beautiful words: “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will [or we could translate that, if anyone desires to do what God desires], he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” Do you hear what Jesus is telling us? Not only is he bringing us back to this fundamental question, he's also bringing us back to the heart. The first question to ask yourself is not, “What has God revealed about things as they truly are in this or that area of my life?” The first question to ask, always, is, “What is genuinely more important to me... my way or God's way? What I want or what God wants?”
When a man or woman genuinely desires, trusts, surrenders to God's will for his or her life, something amazing happens: the teachings of Jesus shine with the wisdom and power of heaven. We recognize life in his words. Even if the world hates him and us, we recognize love in his words. They are light in our darkness. They are guidance from a good and gracious King. But it always begins with the fundamental orientation of my heart. Only then are we positioned for 'right judgment', that discernment in every area informed by the Scriptures and empowered by the Spirit. Remember, a desire to do God's will above our own, is definitely a work of the Holy Spirit. And for sinners like us, that work is only possible because Jesus' time did fully come. At another feast, he went up very publicly to Jerusalem... and was slain there for us. So in light of the very Good News of Christ crucified... then raised to life, go to God in faith this morning. Repent of your 'should be's' and ask him for that very heart; for a “will... to do God's will”.